x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 September 2017

Pakistan 'blasphemy' girl still not granted bail as trial adjourned

Child's lawyer claims case against her has collapsed after police arrested a cleric for allegedly tampering with the evidence against her.

ISLAMABAD // A Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy must spend at least four more days in jail after her bail hearing was adjourned yesterday.

Judge Mohammed Azam Khan has repeatedly delayed bail proceedings for Rimsha Masih, who was arrested last month accused of burning papers containing verses from the Quran.

Mr Khan yesterday again put back the hearing until Saturday following a request from a lawyer representing Rimsha's original accuser, Hammad Malik.

Rao Abdur Raheem, the lawyer, said the case should not be heard, in order to show solidarity with a strike being observed by the bar association in Punjab province, the largest organisation of its type in the country.

Rimsha's lawyer said the case against his client had collapsed.

"The prosecution has completely failed. There is nothing left in this case now," Raja Ikram, a lawyer representing Rimsha, said after the adjournment.

Rimsha, who is about 14, is being held at the high-security Adiyala prison in Rawalpindi. She will have spent 22 days in custody by Friday.

Campaigners stepped up calls for her release after police on Saturday arrested a cleric for allegedly tampering with the evidence against Rimsha.

His deputy and two assistants said Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti tried to bolster the case by planting pages from the Quran among burnt papers brought to him.

"Rimsha must be released now. The evidence has been proved false so there is no reason to keep her behind bars any more," said Shamaun Alfred Gill, a spokesman for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.

According to a medical report, Rimsha's mental age is below her true age. Some reports say she suffers from Down syndrome.

Western governments have expressed concern over her arrest.

A prominent Muslim cleric calling for Rimsha's release and protection repeated yesterday that the United States and other countries should "mind their own business".

Tahir Ashrafi, the chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, urged the government to set up a team, including intelligence agents, to investigate and "get to the bottom of the conspiracy and expose the real culprits".

"Our heads bowed in shame for what Chishti did," he said, but added there are "many others active behind the scene and they should be brought to justice".